7 Eye Popping Marine Reefs and Sanctuaries

Vatu-I-Ra-Seascape 7 Eye Popping Marine Reefs and Sanctuaries

What is a marine sanctuary? A marine park is a type of marine protected area (MPA). An MPA is a section of the ocean where the government has placed limits on human activity. (National Geographic, 2022)  Fiji has become one of the leading authorities on environmental issues, leading the rest of the world on the importance of protecting and securing our precious nature for current and future generations. Through the National Green Growth Framework and the 20-year National Development Plan, a network of partnerships with different communities, provinces, and social institutions has been developed, empowering the individual through workshops and…

Fiji Marine Reefs and Sanctuaries...
Marine Reefs and Sanctuaries Map | Image: Supplied

Waitabu Marine Park 

Waitabu Marine Park
Waitabu Marine Park, 2022 | Image: Supplied

Covering over 27 hectares, the Waitabu Marine Park preserves a wide variety of wildlife. From the dense forest of the Island of Taveuni to the coral reefs of Waitabu, you will see an extremely wide range of native species. (Raiwasa, 2022)  In 1998 on the eastern side of Taveuni, the village of Waitabu in partnership with NZAID declared its fishing grounds as a no-take fishing zone and marine park. over the following years, the Waitabu community has become very proud of and passionate to demonstrate the high success of the park.   The crystal clear waters brimming with marine life (Surgeon fish, Parrotfish), and the vibrant coral reef is a kaleidoscope of colors.  This truly complements the garden islands of Fiji. Official Website

Waitabu MPA map poster scaled
Waitabu Marine Park | Image: Supplied

Na Tabu’ Marine Reserve 

Marine Park at Likuliku Lagoon Resort
Marine Park at | Image: Likuliku Resort Fiji, 2020

On the 19th of July 2005, the Paramount Chief of the Mamanuca Islands, Na TuiLawa, declared the waters and reefs in front of Likuliku Lagoon and Malolo Resort as a new marine reserve. The marine reserve is an environmental initiative of Malolo Island in partnership with the traditional owners to improve the fish stocks and allow the natural regeneration of reef and marine life as part of responsible and sustainable tourism.  (Likuliku Lagoon Fijian Resort, 2020).

Shark Reef Marine Reserve

Shark Reef Marine Reserve
Shark Reef Marine Reserve | Image: Beqa Adventure Divers, 2020

Shark Reef Marine reserve was first established in 2004, formed by a local dive operation and the local communites who traditionally own the rights to the reef.  They are the Wainiyabia and Galoa villages.  The Shark Reef project was set up with 2 main aims:

  1. The short-term aim is the protection of the reef and its inhabitants as a whole ecosystem and;
  2. The longer-term aim is to develop the area to allow the locals to make an equal or greater income from protecting the reef than they once earned by depleting its resources. (DW, 2018)

The reserve is populated by eight different shark species: Whitetip Reef Sharks, Tawny Nurse Sharks, Blacktip Reef Sharks, Silvertip Sharks, Grey Reef Sharks, Sicklefin Lemon Sharks, Bull Sharks, and the Tiger Sharks.

Naiqoro Passage Marine Sanctuary

Naiqoro Passage Marine Sanctuary on the Great Astrolabe Reef
The Great Astrolabe Reef | Image: Kokomo Island Resort, 2021

The Great Astrolabe Reef system one of the largest barrier reefs in the world is located along the southern side of the Kadavu Archipelago of islands, and arcs north around Ono island and further north to Buliya island, an unspoiled location famous for its manta ray snorkeling.  The reef was named by French explorer Dumont d’Urville after he nearly lost his ship, the Astrolabe, to this reef in 1827 (PCRF, 2005).  The reef is a breeding ground for many large billfish (marlin) species, sharks, tuna, giant trevally, mahi-mahi (dolphinfish), and snapper, due to it having many channels leading from extremely deep water into shallow lagoons (Ganilau, Bernadette Rounds 2007).

The Naiqoro Passage one of the main passages and thoroughfares for large fish has been protected, from all commercial fishing, and was designated a marine sanctuary in 2018. 

Vatu-I-Ra Seascape

Vatu I Ra Seascape Hilltop, Fiji Islands
Vatu I Ra Seascape Hilltop | Image: Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Park, 2021

Stretching across the channel that links Fiji’s two main islands (Viti Levu and Vanua Levu) is a blue-green jewel of forest and reef. Called Vatu-i-Ra, its vibrant seas are laced with coral reefs, masses of colorful reef fish, and sea turtles, while the adjoining landscape of coastal forests is alive with crested iguanas, tree frogs, and sea birds. (Wildlife Conservation Society, 2009).  The currents generated from squeezing the sea through narrow channels down to 700 meters support an astounding diversity of life. The seamounts and pinnacles are a haven for divers, who travel from all over the world to see the spectacular colors and sights of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape., attracting approximately 40.000 tourists per year.

Vati-i-ra Conservation Park is constructed of a network of community-managed marine areas (including Namena), making the park the nation’s largest ‘no take’ reserve where fishing is prohibited. Speaking to the people of the Nakorotubu community in the Ra Province, the Wild­life Conservation Society Director Ms. Mangubhai said the ‘Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Park together with the Namena Marine Reserve in Vanua Levu makes up 21,000 hectares of the total 27,000 hectares of Fiji Conservation Parks'(Coastal lands and seas) supporting 116 000 peoples livelihoods, with the Permanent Secretary for iTaukei Affairs Mr. Katonitabua further stating that; “The Government, through the National Green Growth Framework for Fiji and the five years and 20-year National Development Plan is committed to this vision,”  (Komaisavai, 2018).

The joint partnership with the different provinces (Bua, Lomaiviti, Ra, and Tailevu) and the social institutions (the national government, provincial offices, private sector, non-government organizations, and research institutes), support and empowers the people, protecting their natural resources for them and future generations.  Only recently ten fish wardens and a patrol boat were introduced to help monitor and safeguard this national treasure.  Official Website

Vatu I Ra Seascape Map
Vatu-i-ra Landseascape Map, 2009 | Image: Supplied
Common namesTypeScientific namesFijian NameNumbers
Pisonia grandisVegetation
Littoral trees and bushesVegetation
Hawksbill turtlesReptilesEretmochelys imbricata
Pygmy snake-eyed skinkReptilesCryptoblecephalus eximius
Black noddyBirdsAnous tenuirostrisGogo
Red-footed boobyBirdsSula sula ToroYava damu600 Individuals
Lesser frigatebirdBirdsFregata arielManumanunicagi500 Individuals
Brown noddyBirdsAnous stolidusGogo80 Individuals
Black-naped ternBirdsSterna sumatranaEreqia115 Individuals
Bridled ternBirdsOnychoprion anaethetusYaraqia500 Individuals
Brown BoobyBirdsSula leucogasterToro150 Individuals
Greater Crested ternBirdsThalasseus bergii IcoIdre250 Breeding pairs
White-tailed tropicbirdBirdsPhaethon lepturusLawedua1 Breeding pairs
Table: Vatu (i-Ra) Island – Habitats and Species – Numbers are derived from the maximum count over a 10-year period (2005–2015) by BirdLife International.

Namena Marine Reserve

Namena dive Site, Savusavu, Fiji Islands
Namena dive Site | Image: Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort Fiji, 2022

The Namena Marine Reserve, located between the principal islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, is part of the traditional fishing grounds, or “Qoliqoli,” of the Kubulau Community. This community had the foresight some years ago to better manage and conserve its natural marine resources. They sought to not only to protect their fisheries from over-exploitation due to poaching and poor management but also to develop the tourism sector as a means of providing sustainable livelihoods and benefits to the community  (The Namena Marine Reserve, 2021).  Official Website

  • The Namena Marine Reserve is home to more than 1,000 species of invertebrates, 400 known corals, 445 documented marine plants, and over 1,100 fish species.
  • Namena is a migratory pathway for cetaceans; you may encounter species such as bottlenose and spinner dolphins, or pilot, minke, sperm, and humpback whales.
  • Four of the world’s seven sea turtle species can be found in Fiji, and both green and hawksbill sea turtles regularly nest on Namena’s beaches.
  • Namena Island is a primary seabird nesting site, with approximately 600 pairs of protected red-footed booby birds.
  • There are 3 different types of sea snakes and numerous land snakes on the islands.
Common namesScientific names
Blue Ribbon EelRhinomuraena quaesita
BarracudaSphyraena sp.
Tiger SharksGaleoserdo cuvier
Hawksbill Sea TurtleEretmochelys imbricata
Table: Namena Marine Reserve – Habitats and Species

The Great Sea Reef – (Cakaulevu Reef)

Aerial - Great Sea Reef surrounding beautiful Kia Island. Northern Division
Aerial – Great Sea Reef surrounding beautiful Kia Island. Northern Division | Image: Nukubati, 2022

The Great Sea Reef, locally known as Cakaulevu has two claims to fame, one being the world’s third-longest continuous barrier reef system, behind the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Mesoamerica Reef off Central America, and the third-longest reef in the southern hemisphere.

The Great Sea Reef runs for over 200km from the northeastern tip of Udu point in Vanua Levu to Bua at the northwest edge of Vanua Levu, across the Vatuira passage, veering off along the way to hug the coastline of Ra and Ba provinces and into the Yasawas. As it snakes its way across the western sections of the country’s sea, the reef system takes on different local names but is part of one barrier reef system. (WWF, 2005)

The diversity of marine life found on the Great Sea Reef has been found to be of global, regional, national, and local importance, with endangered species of fish being identified, listed on the ICUN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list of threatened species, such as the Green turtle, Spinner dolphin, Bumphead parrot fish, along with 43 different types of hard coral recorded. 

Case Study: Ocean Protectors: How The Old Ways Of Protecting The Ocean Are New Again In Fiji

Ocean Protectors How The Old Ways Of Protecting The Ocean Are New Again In Fiji
Ocean Protectors How The Old Ways Of Protecting The Ocean Are New Again In Fiji  | Image: World Development Bank, 2022

Ocean conservation is more than just environmental protection to the father of two, Josefa Bau; it is part of his identity.

Josefa’s love for the ocean started from a very young age, when his father would take him and his siblings out fishing early in the morning, sailing off with breakfast lovingly packed by their mother. Now 45 years old, Josefa runs a dolphin-watching business from Natalei Eco Lodge – an hour’s drive northeast of Suva, Fiji’s capital – from where he takes visitors cruising out to emerald blue-green waters that Fiji is world-famous for.

Visitors on Josefa’s tours are usually joined by an entourage of anywhere between 60 to 100 spinner dolphins, playfully jumping through the air as Josefa’s tour makes it way out to Makalati reef, also known as Moon Reef because of its crescent moon shape. It is said that these dolphins, known as babale in Fiji’s indigenous i-Taukei (indigenous Fijian) language, are the traditional guardians of the reef.

“It is said that when someone passes away, their spirit is launched from a point on the main island that then dives into the water where the dolphins entertain the spirits until they finally pass on to the afterlife,” explains Josefa.

Moon Reef has officially declared a marine protected area in 2010 by the chiefs of Dawasamu, the surrounding district of Josefa’s community. This means that it is now a designated “no-take zone,” where fishing or harvesting of any species from the area is strictly prohibited. For Josefa and his community, the benefits have been significant.

“The dolphin watching business is a boost for tourism in Fiji, and for our local community,” says Josefa. “It helps to bring a lot of revenue to our community and to our schools. We want to make sure our next generation is aware of the importance of preserving our natural resources – from ridge to reef.”

The dividends of this protection have been far-reaching. The income generated from the Moon Reef dolphin tours supports community development projects, including many conservation-based activities, marine protection education, and awareness as well as supporting infrastructure at the local school. Monitoring and evaluation work – including reporting any illegal fishing – is also undertaken by community members in the area, and Moon Reef serves as a frequent field research location for students from the University of South Pacific’s Marine Studies program.

Although Fiji’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is about 70 times larger than its landmass, Fiji’s terrestrial and marine protected areas only make up one percent of the country. Moon Reef is one of 466 Locally Managed Marine Area communities in all 14 provinces across Fiji. Such marine sanctuaries have been critical in the fight to preserve precious resources, allowing ecosystems to regenerate and thrive. Globally, the World Bank’s Banking on Protected Areas report says that every dollar invested in protected areas and eco-tourism leads to returns at least six times the size of the initial investment.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Fiji’s marine resources and their services to Fiji’s people are worth more than FJD2.5 billion per year. In Fiji, such benefits are amplified by the fact that traditional knowledge of marine management – which has been practiced by Pacific people for centuries – is being revived, meaning the “old ways” are becoming the ways again.

For example, Fijian i-Taukei belief systems are deeply connected to the ocean, where the people are seen as having the responsibility to nurture and protect their natural resources. This includes the notion of protecting sections of the marine environment – known as tabu (similar to the English; taboo) – meaning an area designated as a “no-take zone” for a period of time, to allow time for the recovery and rejuvenation of its biodiversity.

Studies have shown that within Moon Reef, the ecosystem is now thriving to such an extent that the resident pod of spinner dolphins has not only stayed in the reef for the last ten years but has also grown in population.

“This is more than income generation; this is part of who we are. We want to make sure … our next generation is aware of the importance of preserving our natural resources from ridge to reef,” says Josefa.

Given that 20% of Fiji’s population lives within one kilometer of the coastline, and 76% within five kilometers of the coastline, urgent action to protect marine areas and the livelihoods of coastal communities is critical. In 2021, the World Bank supported the completion of Fiji’s new National Ocean Policy, which incorporates the goal of a five-fold increase in marine protected areas in the country by 2024, with eventual expansion to reach 30 percent of the country’s waters by 2030. This new policy also supports the greater inclusion of women in ocean management and aims to restore and maintain the health of Fiji’s ocean areas, provide food security, as well as create more ecotourism opportunities, much like at Moon Reef. This policy change was part of US$145 million (approximately FJ$300 million) in support of Fiji’s recovery from the pandemic and a series of major economic shocks.

“Expanding Fiji’s marine protected areas means greater protection of Fiji’s exceptional biodiversity and improving ocean health,” says Lasse Melgaard, Resident Representative of the World Bank for the South Pacific. “The World Bank is really proud to be supporting Fiji’s mission to protect its ocean and marine ecosystems alongside other development organizations and partners.”

This commitment is part of the World Bank’s work to strengthen the resilience of the maritime economy and the habitats supporting it, to achieve what is called the “Blue Economy,” improving food security and creating sustainable income streams through more jobs from the ocean – particularly for coastal communities – while bolstering the resilience of countries most vulnerable to climate-related events or disasters. It is also closely tied to the Pacific Islands Regional Oceanscape Program (PROP), another World Bank-supported program that works with Pacific governments, regional organizations, and communities to help countries improve their effective management of oceanic fisheries, coastal fisheries, and habitats supporting them.

However, despite the progress made in the last decade – particularly policy reforms, better monitoring of marine areas, and more effective ocean management – there is still plenty to be done to ensure communities like Josefa’s can continue to thrive in and around the ocean, just as they have for centuries.

“Sustainability doesn’t just start and stop with one generation; it must continue to grow with each new generation,” reflects Josefa. “That’s why I’m so very passionate about the ocean. Because we saw how our forefathers respected and protected it. It is a blessing to us.”

The World Bank’s support to Fiji includes funding from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and International Development Association (IDA), and grants for technical and analysis work. This is, in addition, to support from other key partners in the region.

Video: Ocean Protectors


  • Bommie – an outcrop of coral reef, often resembling a column, that is higher than the surrounding platform of the reef and which may be partially exposed at low tide


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